Catalogue - Reprints (Africana General)

Seven Years in South Africa - Vol 2
by Emil Holub

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Books of Zimbabwe, (Africana Book Society)

ISBN 0 949973 14 9

SEVEN Years in South Africa is a two volume work in which the author, a noted 19th century ethnographer, describes his first three expeditions to the remoter regions of southern Africa in the 1870s.

Emil Holub's compelling ambition was to follow in the footsteps of David Livingstone and, specifically, to reach Luanda by way of the Zambesi valley and across Angola. 'This, he wrote, would have been 'the realisation of the vision of my youth'. That he failed in his principal objective does not diminish his stature as a traveller-explorer nor, indeed, the fascination which modern readers will derive from his meticulous accounts of the journeys, the third of which, described in this the second volume of Seven Tears in South Africa, took him to the upper reaches of the Zambesi river.

Holub was eminently qualified to undertake travel in the Africa of his day. He was a doctor of medicine, a zoologist, a botanist, a hunter, a taxidermist, an artist and cartographer, an avid collector of specimens and, above all, a keen observer. Where Livingstone broke new ground, Holub followed to consolidate, to record, to add detail to the broad canvas painted by his eminent predecessor.

EMIL HOLUB was born, the son of a surgeon, at Holitz (in modern Czechoslovakia) in 1847. He studied medicine and natural sciences at Prague University, graduating in 1872. Soon afterwards he set sail for Africa, determined to emulate his boyhood hero, David Livingstone, and 'devote myself in some way to the exploration' of the great and, at that time, very much unknown continent.

His first two journeys - into the Transvaal in 1873 and to Shoshong during 1873 and I874 - were in the nature of trial runs. His third, undertaken in 1875 and described in the second volume of Seven Years in South Africa, took him to the upper reaches of the Zambesi river. Although the expedition failed disastrously, his detailed study of Barotseland and of the Lozi and their subject tribes represented a valuable contribution to the body of 19th century scientific knowledge.

Holub then spent four years in Europe, lecturing and displaying his magnificent collections of specimens, before embarking, in 1886, on his second expedition beyond the Zambesi. This lasted a bare ten weeks and came to a tragic conclusion with the death of several of his party and the loss of all his equipment. He returned to Europe in 1887 to resume his lecturing, visited America and was decorated, by various European sovereigns, with some forty Orders. He died, after a long and complicated illness, in 1902.

As an explorer, Emil Holub fell short of the exacting standard set by men like Livingstone, Stanley and Baines. His achievements as a writer, ethnographer and collector, however, place him firmly among the great scientific travellers of the 19th century.

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